NFL hopefuls play in Senior Bowl

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Associated Press
MOBILE, Ala. ó Greg McElroy once again feels like a three-star recruit itching to prove doubters wrong.
The former Alabama quarterback wasnít particularly highly rated by recruiting services out of high school, but wound up helping lead the Crimson Tide to a national title and 24 wins over the last two seasons. Now, heís among the second tier of draft prospects from Auburn and Alabama ó who have split the past two national championships ó preparing for Saturdayís Senior Bowl and trying to boost their stock.
ěA lot of people have criticized me for being a product of the system and just being surrounded by great talent,î McElroy said. ěThis is an opportunity for me to go out there on an even playing field and just show people that I can play at this level, I can make all the throws. I have a lot of confidence in my game right now.
ěI had a great time at Alabama, but a lot of people question my abilities and Iím going to try to prove people wrong this week and throughout the course of the process.î
Heís not alone.
Auburn and Alabama will likely have a combined five first-round picks in the April draft but all are juniors who are leaving school early. Those include Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton of Auburn and Mark Ingram of Alabama, along with coveted defensive linemen Nick Fairley (Auburn) and Marcell Dareus (Alabama) and Tide wide receiver Julio Jones.
Then thereís the Senior Bowl group, accomplished college players but not regarded as such seemingly canít-miss prospects.
Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes has heard the talk that heís a good college player, but not necessarily an NFL guy.
ěThatís what they say,î Bynes said. ěIím out here to show NFL coaches that I can play at the next level. Iím not too worried about what people are saying. They could say youíre a first-rounder and you end up not being drafted. It doesnít really matter. These coaches out here make the final decision.î
And getting a Senior Bowl invite gives each player a shot at improving their stock either on the practice field or during numerous interviews with NFL teams. McElroy had seven meetings scheduled for Monday night alone.
Playing for a national championship team ó Auburn last season and Alabama the year before ó canít hurt.
The Senior Bowl group includes Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba, projected as high as the second round, and his Alabama counterpart James Carpenter, along with Tigers safety Zac Etheridge and Tide tight end Preston Dial.
Ziemba and Carpenter have lined up at right and left guard, respectively, at times in practice, though itís not clear what spot theyíll play in the NFL.
Ziemba joked that the only other time he had played guard was ěin Pop Warnerî league.
ěIíve got to show that Iím versatile and that I can take coaching and that Iím a hard worker,î said Ziemba, a four-year starter at left tackle. ěThatís the things they canít really see at game film.
ěIn the NFL, you dress seven linemen. Youíve got to be able to play across the board.î
Or on special teams. Thatís part of what Dial is focusing on, trying to raise his value for prospective NFL employers.
ěOne of my assets as a tight end is that Iím versatile,î Dial said. ěTo play special teams, you need a lot of versatile guys. For me to think that Iím just going to go play tight end somewhere as a rookie is unrealistic. Iíve got to prepare myself to play special teams, contribute in two phases of the game.î
McElroy said he has heard himself projected ěanywhere from third round to undrafted.î
He still has to prove he has the physical skills, but he clearly has the brains. McElroy was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship but entry into the NFL for a quarterback is pretty exclusive, too.
ěItís the No. 1 failure position probably in the draft because quarterbacks are just hard to evaluate,î Tide coach Nick Saban said. ěThe reason is you never know if they have the right stuff. Itís such a judgment, decision-making position, a leadership position. I know when it comes to intangibles, Greg McElroyís got all the right stuff.
ěHe did a great job of managing the game for us, did a great job of playing winning football, making great choices and decisions, not turning the ball over very much and is an accurate passer. Some of those things are really critical factors to being successful as a quarterback in the NFL.î
The Associated Press
01/25/11 17:50